Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dreaming About Spiders on Illustration Friday

     Yay! It's Illustration Friday... Well sort of.  It's Actually Thursday, but I'm posting early for the Holiday.  For all my American friends out there, Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm also posting early this week, because both the illustration and the short story this week are themed for the Holiday. This week's topic is SPIDER.

     Every year around this time, I am both simultaneously excited and saddened.  I know the history of this holiday and it's not a very happy one.  The myth that Americans tell their children in school is, well... a myth.  It's not really the whole truth.  I always wonder what Native Americans think of the Thanksgiving Holiday and this wonder is the inspiration for both my illustration and this week's story.  However, before we get into all of that:

First, a story:

Ahote Dakota Dreams of Spiders:
A Thanksgiving Story
~Lewis W. Porter~

     The branches crunched under her feet as she ran through the forest.  The lush pine greens were speeding by her in colored flashes.  She was running faster than she thought she could, but was not afraid that she would fall over.  Her feet were cold and bare, but she didn't care.  She had to keep up with the rest of them as they all ran through the woods towards it; towards what was coming...  Because, it WAS coming.  She didn't know what it was, but she kept running anyway.  Crunch. Crash. Crunch.  The only other sound she could hear at this moment, beside the breaking branches were the fast whisping of her feet as they slid by each other, or was that the sound of her shallow breaths as she raced to keep up. She couldn't tell. Crash. Crunch. Crash. And then she heard it; the sound of the ocean waters lapping upon the shore.

     The others began to slow. So did she.  They were at the foot where the forest meets the waters.  She peeked out between the thick brushy pine branches.  Then, she saw it; a very large boat, the kind the ghost people come on, black as soil, with sail after sail after sail stretching their great arms.  The ship was coming in fast, so fast, she didn't know if they should move further back into the woods for safety.

     That is when the great black ship crashed on to the rocks. There was a stillness and a silence.

     Then she heard the screams.  All that came with her began to scream as they looked upon the horror that was coming out of the ship.  At first she didn't understand.  It seemed as if a wave had begun to pour from the hole that was made in the ship, but it wasn't water.  It was pitch black, blacker than the ship itself and it didn't flow like water. It flowed upward; up onto the ship until it was covered, white sails and all. Covered in dark furry blackness.  Every now and again she could see spots of red glittering through the fuzzy dark waters.

     What was it?  What was that black water?

     Then, comprehension came. It wasn't water they were watching spill out from the ship.  They were spiders. SPIDERS!  Hundreds! Thousands! So many she could not count.  And almost, as if the spiders were waiting for her to see them for what they truly were, the dark fury red eyed waters began to poor and flood from the ship, onto the rocks and up the bank toward the forest where they all stood.  All that had come with her, gave out screams even louder than before and all turned to run. To run from the wave of spiders that were quickly covering everything and everyone around her in the forest.  She couldn't run fast enough.  She was covered by the wave.  She could feel all their furry legs crawling over her.  All she could see was blackness. BLACKNESS!

     And that is precisely when the spiders.....

     "MOTHER!" Ahote Dakota screamed at the top of her lungs.  She sat up in her bed so fast that she thought she'd fall off of it.  She was breathing so fast. She rushed her arms and hands all over her as if to brush something off of her, but there was nothing there.  She was alone in her bedroom.  It was not completely dark,  there was a nite-lite plugged in beside her, but it wasn't really necessary.  The sun had begun to slowly peek out above the clouds.  It was dawn. She was in her bed. She was safe.  Ahote was safe.  It must have been just a bad dream. Ahote cried again for her mother to come, but not as intense. The fear that she had felt when she first awoke from her terrible dream had already begun to fade. However, she was still alone and she had realized that her face was wet.  She must have been crying while she was asleep.  She longed for her mother's comfort.

     Shimah Dakota came rush through the door. "Ahote! What is the matter? Why are you crying?  Did you have a bad dream?"  Ahote's mother wrapped her arms around her her daughter and began to rock back and forth slowly.  "You're OK, Ahote. You're OK. You're with me and everything is going to be OK."

     When Ahote had calmed down enough for her to speak, she told her mother that she indeed had had a terrible dream that frightened her so badly.  She didn't tell her mother what it was.  She didn't mention the spiders.  She wasn't entirely sure why. She just felt that perhaps it wasn't important now that it was over.  Shimah bade her daughter to get out of bed and begin getting ready for school.  Ahote thought that if it wasn't bad enough that she was almost frightened to death, going to school on top of it seemed less than appealing to her.  She wrinkled her nose at her mother.

     "Don't look at me that way, Ahote, it is a school day and you will be going today; bad dreams or no bad dreams. You aren't ill so you're going. You should hurry. The bus will be here before you know it."  Shimah left Ahote's bedroom and Ahote could hear her now in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  Ahote got ready for school and joined her mother in the kitchen.  She ate breakfast with her mother and they laughed as they normally would on any school morning.

     Ahote then grabbed her school things, her mother kissed her and wished her a better day than her morning start had been, and Ahote walked to the bus stop.  Ahote and her mother are Native Americans.  They are part of the Dakota Tribe. However, they do not live on the reservation with their other tribe members.  They are some of the few members who have decided to live in suburban city neighborhood.
     This was her mother's choice.  Ahote didn't fully understand it, as she enjoyed visiting the rest of the tribe when her mother would visit Ahote's grandmother, as they often would do; at least twice if not three times a week.  "I'll tell you all about it one day, Ahote, when you are older." Shimah would say to her daughter, when Ahote would ask why they lived in the suburbs and not on the reservation.  So Ahote went to the public school with all the other suburban children her age as well as riding the bus to and from her school.  Ahote didn't mind her school, in fact she honestly really loved it.  There were all kinds and all colors of kids that lived in her neighborhood and that went to her school.  None of the kids made fun of her for being a Native American, because at Ahote's school, there was every color under the rainbow, and she liked that.  Sure not all the kids got along with each other all of the time, but she had plenty of friends and she was happy there.  She often smiled when she would think of herself as a band on a rainbow.

     There was only one time of the year that Ahote really felt separated form the rest of her school, and unfortunately, that day was coming up very soon...

     National Thanksgiving Day.

     She always had felt conflicted about that particular holiday as she was taught 2 very very different versions of the Thanksgiving Story each year.  The one that most of the kids know and think about when they think of the holiday is the one she learned about at school.  The other version of the story is the one that her mother and her grandmother would tell her about at home... and they were VERY different stories.  This time of year always gave Ahote a little bit of nervousness.  One of the other things that Ahote does at school differently from the other children is that she changes the words to My Country Tis of Thee, just some.  Instead of singing "Land of the Pilgrim's Pride," she sings,"Land of the Natives' Pride." She always smiles when she does this. It makes her proud to sing the song when she does and no one really notices that she's singing them differently.

     That day and class, everyone was making a turkey out of a hand print.  Ahote never really liked the activity very much so she slowly poked along on making hers.  She knew she wouldn't be taking it home anyway.  She would throw it away in the trash can before getting on the bus home. Even though her family did celebrate the holiday, there were still certain traditional activities that her mother would just prefer she not participate in, like the hand-print turkey.  The sad thing was that Ahote really did love the Arts and Crafts time at her school.  She really enjoyed drawing intricate and colorful patterns; the kinds she would see when she would visit the Dakota. However, the Hand-print Turkey was a bit lack luster in comparison, she thought.  So not to cause a ruckus at school, she makes her turkey, but then disposes of it before she gets home.

     As the bell rang for the end of the school day, the teacher called across the room,"Don't forget tomorrow, children, that we will be in the auditorium instead of the class room to pick and rehearse parts for the school's Thanksgiving Day Pageant."  Ahote stopped in her tracks.  Could this have been what she had been thinking about in her dream. The dreaded Thanksgiving Day Pageant.  She shivered some at the thought of the coming day.  She was always picked to play the part of Squanto, and she always hated doing it.  Not because she didn't think that Squanto had been an honorable man from her history, quite the opposite actually, She just thought the way that the Thanksgiving Story was told at her school didn't really resemble what the real story was, that her mother had told to her.  And for that reason, she didn't feel that the pageant represented Squanto's people or any of the Native Peoples in a respectful way.  In all honesty, she felt like it was a betrayal to her mother and grandmother and she just didn't like participating.  She could try to fake being sick, she supposed, but she knew her mother would see through it...  She just had to endure the next few days, just like she always had to.

     That night after supper, Ahote was glad to see her bed.  The thought of the coming days made her feel very very tired.  She was asleep before she even knew it.

     When the black fog dissipated there was a vast field, filled with many people.  It looked like the Dakota reservation but it was not. It was elsewhere.  The people where both ghost people and the native people she recognized.  They looked like the Dakota tribe, but they were not.  There was fighting so much fighting.  The ground was green and red and black and the sound was almost so horrible and loud that her ears almost stopped hearing it all.  There were shouts and there were screams and ghost people were hurting native people and native people were hurting ghost people.  It was more than she could bear to watch but she couldn't close her eyes.  The black fog was like magic and once it lifted to the horror she was seeing, she could neither un-see it nor close her eyes.  She ran to hid under a bush that was close by.  No one seemed to see her or take notice of her.

     Then all of the fighting just stopped. It stopped and everyone turned to look at the dark black skies.  She could see things falling out of the clouds like rain, but it was not rain. The things were bigger than rain drops.  they looked like... like blankets.  Dark black blankets were falling from the sky. Everyone watched as they rained down down down upon the field.  As they drew closer and closer, she could see red spots begin to appear on the black furry blankets.  They only appeared to be falling upon the people all the people, ghost and native alike,  as if to cover them for sleep or warm them from a harsh winter. But these blankets were not friendly, no. They fell upon the fighting people as if they were eating them. The blankets were eating all the people. It was such a terrible sight.

     Then the blanket mounds began to transform into large black spiders.  And she was once more surrounded by them; spiders everywhere she could see across the field.  She knew at once she couldn't stay hidden, because they were all looking at her.  They could see her in the bush.  She darted out from underneath the bush and was about to run because she just KNEW that those giant spiders were going to chase her...

     ...but they didn't.

     The spiders just stood there and looked at her, no. They could look through her, inside her, like they were reading her mind.  She at once, was no longer afraid of them and before she could ask the question she had been thinking in her mind,"Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want of me?" The Black fog took her.

     Ahote awoke again in her bed, heart racing, feeling a bit panicked. She looked around the room as if she expected to see the Giant Spiders in her dream, but of course, there was nothing there except the pale growing light of Dawn breaking across her bedroom windows.

     At breakfast Ahote told her mother about both of the dreams she had had and about the spiders.  She just didn't understand why they seemed so scary yet they didn't seem like they would harm her.  Her mother raised an eyebrow.

     "Ahote, I'm not as of yet certain what they mean, but I am quite certain that your dreams are trying to tell you something. I know that Thanksgiving Day is coming and you always seem to be upset around this holiday, but I promise you that everything is going to be OK. We will be fine and we will celebrate that day the way we always have. Together and we will see Grandma Dakota and we will eat and eat and eat." Shemah tickled her daughter as she said this and it made them both laugh. "I'm going to see your Grandma Dakota today actually to make plans for our holiday. I will ask her what she thinks about your dreams and we can talk about them when you get home from school today."

     This made Ahote feel much better.  She finished breakfast and headed out to catch the school bus.

      That day in the auditorium was grueling for Ahote.  Even though the teachers and the Principal had student after student read for each part, She knew they would do as they always did, give her the part of Squanto, the friendly Indian Chief who helps the poor Pilgrims through the winter by feeding them and teaching them how to grow food.  This always made Ahote groan form the inside.  She really disliked playing that part, because she felt like it was a bit of an insult to her, her mother, for having to watch her do it year after year, her tribe and her native people as a whole.  It was kind of sort of correct but not really.  She felt as if she was trapped inside a Fairy tale version of what really happened.  She always hid her dislike and accepted the part graciously. The teachers and the principal would smile as if they were doing her some kind of big favor. Honestly she just wished they would give the role to the next kid who wanted it, so she could dress up as the Turkey.  That part of the play always made her laugh, the dancing turkey, but she knew they would never give her that role. She would be Squanto forever until her last days at the school.

     That evening at home, Ahote sat at the dinner table with her mother.  She had brought home some books form the tribes library after talking with Grandma Dakota.  "Ahote, I think the Spider or Spiders you are dreaming about are just your Spirit Animals."

     Ahote made a grimacing face. She didn't much care for spiders or many insects for that matter.  She would never harm them as she was always taught to respect all life... But she didn't really want to go be very friendly with them either.  Ahote decided that she would let them go about their business and they should let her go about hers. Coexist but not invite them over for sleepovers. Blah!

     Shimah laughed as Ahote made a second face of disgust."No, I'm serious Ahote. Your spirit animal is supposed to be your guide. See here." Shimah pointed to the illustration and writing in the book.  "The Spider represents the wild spirit of creativity and allows you to navigate through the ebbs of flows of life.  They are the weavers of life's fate when they weave their intricate webs.  Essentially they are the weaver's of life and it's story."

     Ahote was becoming quite fascinated with the idea and it made her feel less afraid of her dreams now.  "What does it mean when you see them in your dreams, though?" Ahote asked her mother.

     "Oh yes! That actually is quite fascinating and I think you'll like the answer.  Grandma Dakota helped me find this book here."  Shimah pulled another book out from the stack.  Ahote saw that it was decorated so beautifully with colorful images of dream catchers and animals on it's cover.  Shimah opened the book to the page about the spider.  She and Ahote read the page aloud together.

     "When you dream about a spider, chances are they are trying to tell you something very important about a direction your life is taking.  They are associated with such attributes as Patience, Receptivity or Openness and Creativity.  If A spider appears in your dream, especially if it is your totem animal, then pay very close attention to what it is trying to tell you."

     "So you see Ahote, the spiders in your dream aren't trying to scare you, they are trying to tell you something very very important about yourself or your life's path.  If you dream about them again, try to see what it is that they are doing and see if you can find some meaning in it with whats going on around you, say perhaps at school, or the pageant that I know you don't like participating in."

     "But Mother, it's just that they always pick me to play the part of..."

     "I know, Ahote. I know what they do and I know how it makes you feel. Do you remember what I told you about that?  It is our job to be kind and loving as the Dakota, even when others are wrong.  This is how we honor those that came before us. This is how we honor each other and this is how we honor this world we have been so graciously given."

     "I know." Ahote said as she smiled up at her mother and Shimah smiled back at her as she closed the book.

     "Well I hope this was helpful, or at least helped you feel better. Now get ready for bed."

     Ahote did feel better and she was not afraid or weary when she fell asleep in her bed that night.

     The dark fog came and lifted once more, and when it did, it revealed a small farm in a field.  There were many  people once more, ghost and native alike. They were not fighting, they were sitting around 3 long tables. There were so many of them and they were laughing.  There was food, so much food; as much food as there were people, if not more food.  Squashes and Pumpkins and corn and cornbread and fish and deer and turkey and duck and so much more.  It seemed like a Feast After the Harvest.  So many things in this vision seemed so familiar to her.  Then she realized the scene she was really witnessing was the scene of the First Thanksgiving, but how it truly happened.

     All of a sudden there was a very loud horn that echoed across the field and the farm.  It came from the forest a distance away.  She now found herself sitting at the table with all the people around her.  They all stopped what they were doing and looked toward the sound of the horn.  It was still calling.  Everyone was just so still. It was almost as if they were frozen, like in a museum.

     That is when the tables began to shake.  They rumbled and bumbled.  The plates and food began to rattle and move and fall off of the tables as they shook. It was quite a noise.  Then the people began to shake and quiver.  Their faces seemed to both melt and change form right before her eyes.  The people were transforming. But what were they transforming into? She couldn't tell.  Then like a wave starting from the top of the table, a dark furriness began to appear.  It whooshed down past her to the very end of the table.  When she looked back around her, she found that she was surrounded by the giant spiders.  She wasn't afraid even though they were much much taller than she.  they seemed silly actually because they were sitting at the 3 long tables just like people would, with all of their legs and everything.  She almost giggled, but she didn't.  They were all looking at her with that strange look once more. The look as if they all had something to tell her. Something important.  She remembered what her mother had told her."If you see them again, try and listen to what it is they are trying to tell you."   So she listened.  She didn't hear anything.  She leaned closer to the inside of the tables, and that is when she finally hear it; a whispering as if a thousand voices were all trying to say something to her all at once.  She leaned in even closer and strained her ears.  The whispers became louder and  then louder and the louder and then...

     ...Ahote's eyes opened to the breaking light in her bedroom.  She wasn't sitting up. She was lying down still in her bed.  She was smiling.  She wasn't afraid of the Spiders in her dreams anymore. She finally understood what it was that her Spirit Animals were trying to tell her.  She sprang out of bed that morning excited about what was to come on this day; the day of the school's Thanksgiving Pageant.

    It was late afternoon and Ahote, nervously peeked out from behind the auditorium stage curtain.  She saw the auditorium filling up with all the parents of the students that went to her school.  Many she recognized, many she did not.  She was arguing with herself in her inside voice whether or not this was a good idea after all. She was a bit nervous. She wondered if her mother was going to be mad with her, or if they would kick her out of school for the stunt she was about to pull.  She didn't know and she couldn't be worried.  The Spiders had told her that this is the right path and her mother did say that if you listen to them, they will not steer you wrong.  She pushed the curtain back in place and headed back to where the rest of the children had gathered behind stage to wait for the play to start.  On her way back she pulled out a handful of different colored magic markers that she had borrowed from her classroom.  She had decided that it wasn't really wrong to take them, as she intended to give them back to her teacher after the performance.  When she joined the group of students backstage, she saw that she wasn't the only one that was nervous.  Many of the students had worn tracks on the floor from pacing back and forth in their sneakers.  There was also a group of adults she hadn't really seen before.  They must be parents that volunteered to help with the play.  Ahote drew a deep breath and walked over to one of the adults.

     "Mam? Excuse me, but I really need to use the rest room."  Ahote said to the volunteer parent.

     "It's down the hall, sweetie. Hurry or you'll be late getting on stage."

     Ahote hurried to the girls bathroom and went into one of the stalls, closing and locking the stall door behind her.  "Alright, Ahote, It's now or never. Time to get to work." she said to herself.  She opened the stall door and peeked around to see if anyone was there.  Good. The coast was clear.  She snick back to  where the group of kids were but kept just out of site of everyone.  She couldn't let anyone see what she had done, just yet.  Not yet.  Timing was everything for this to work.

     As the children filed into the backstage of the auditorium and took their place on the stage, she heard the parents clapping and she knew that the pageant had begun.  She quickly made her way from her hiding spot and through the backstage door.  She walked out on stage and everyone just stopped to look at her.  Ahote looked out on the audience and saw that all the parents and teachers were jaws dropped staring at her.  She was covered from head to toe in an intricate and colorful pattern that resembled a spider's web or a dream catcher. It was difficult for everyone to tell which.

     There was such a stillness... until Ahote finally spoke into the silence.

     "My name is Squanto. I am the leader of my tribe and I have come here today to share with you a vision.  Last night, I dreamt of spiders and they came to tell me of the future that shall come to pass.  They have given me a very important message that I must share with you all.  Today is a happy day.  We will break bread. We will share food and stories about our peoples.  We will laugh and we will sing and we shall feast upon the bounty that lay before us.  But I have come to warn you all of the Shadow that is coming.

     After today, there will be fighting and sorrow and heartbreak.  Many of my people will perish. Some of your people will perish.  My people will loose their homes and they will journey across many many moons of difficulty and sorrow.  We will not be friends always as we are on this happy day.  This shadow is coming for each and every one of us and we can do nothing to stop it.

     It is a sad future that the spiders fortell to me, but we must not be afraid.  We must hope.  The spiders tell me that there is a light after this shadow.  A light that will break upon the broken land as like the dawning of the sun; the dawning of a new hope where we may all begin to heal.  The spider's message is a simple one. They say we are to look back upon this happy day and remember.  We are to look back upon the Shadow and remember.  They say it is our job to be kind. Be kind and love your brother. Be giving and love your sister.  We are all the same on this day. We are all equal in the eyes of our creators. From this new dawn we will no longer be different, we will be one.  We will once again break bread and share stories and laugh and sing not only with our families but with each other, for we are all one human family on this earth and our time here is a gift. It is our duty to remember each other. Be Kind. Be Loving. Share what you have with those who have nothing.  That is what this day is truly about.  The spiders have spoken on this day; a day of giving thanks for all we have and for each other."

     There was a silence as Ahote finished speaking.  She looked out into the faces of the audience.  They were frozen and still, as if they were in a museum... and then she heard it.

     The parents began to applause.  The sound grew louder and louder and louder like water waves crashing upon rocks.  They began to stand and clap and clap and clap.  Ahote's fellow classmates stood on stage and clapped. Ahote even clapped herself.  She joined hands with all the students on stage and led them in a bow.  The parents clapped louder.  There was hooting and hollering of excitement.  Ahote felt the best she had ever felt on any Thanksgiving, EVER!  Everyone then quieted down once more and sat in their seats.  Ahote and the students took their seats at the long table that was on the stage and the pageant continued.

     After the assembly Shimah came and hugged Ahote. "I had no idea you were going to do that, Ahote, but I must say that I am so very proud of you. You listened with your heart and followed it. I really couldn't be more proud than I am right now. However, I must say it is going to take weeks to get all of this marker to come off" They both laughed and Shimah hugged her daughter once more.

     Ahote's teacher and the principal of the school walked up to where she and her mother was standing.
For a moment, Ahote just KNEW she was going to be in trouble for her stunt.

     "Ahote," said the principal,"I must say that I was worried when I first saw you come out on stage, but that was the MOST WONDERFUL speech you gave! I absolutely loved it! We all did and we would like to make it a permanent part of our Thanksgiving Pageant each year, if you are up for it.  I think it captures everything that the Holiday has come to represent."

     Ahote was overjoyed and agreed to play her part in the pageant the exact same way.  Her mother and her headed home.  It was now time to prepare for the holiday.  Ahote was elated with joy this year and couldn't wait to tell Grandma Dakota all about it.

     Ahote never had a bad Thanksgiving Day after that day of  the pageant.

The End.

     Now a few words about the story:
Most Native Americans do not celebrate American Thanksgiving for obvious reasons.  Many tribes call the holiday A Day of Mourning.  You really can't blame them.  Many have felt that the actions of the Wampanoag to not only be a mistake, but a betrayal and disgrace to the native tribes.  I won't go into all of the horrors that befell the natives, I kind of review over them in a way in the story I wrote.  I tried not to be too graphic as the audience for the story was also meant to include children. I do think it is important to teach American children the whole story of what happened and not just the warm and fuzzy parts.  Like it or not Thanksgiving has a very dark and bloody history that can not be separated from it.

     And that is really how the idea of the story came about from the idea of how does a Native American, that attends a public school, feel about this Holiday.  I wanted to write a holiday story from their side, or try to with my limited knowledge of what it is actually like growing up native, let alone a native that does not live on a reservation; a native that is just integrated with everyone else that would attend a public school in America.  I knew there had to be a percentage of the population that had. So what was it like for them?  I became quite curious about that with this holiday quickly approaching.

Jacqueline Keeler

     As I was doing my research, I actually came across a very intriguing article that was written by a Native American that actually did attend a public school.  Jacqueline Keeler is a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Siuox.  She not only went to a public school, but also celebrates the Thanksgiving Holiday.  In her fascinating article, she discusses what her experience was like and why she chooses to celebrate the holiday, in spite of the fact that many other Native Americans do not.  I found her article so positive and empowering.  She really has come to a peaceful space with the dark history of the Thanksgiving Holiday.  You may read the full article by clicking on her photo above. It will link you there. I high recommend it, especially in the context of celebrating Thanksgiving. It's a great read!

     The next element that needed to be incorporated in both the illustration and the story, was of course, spiders (as this is the topic of the week.)  Around any holiday, I really like to theme my Illustration Friday submission with that holiday.  So it was, at first, a bit of a challenge connecting the dots from spiders to Thanksgiving Day.  I knew I was wanting to create a piece that felt as if it had a Native American Art influence.  I also wanted to continue my personal challenge of illustrating children form around the world and writing a story about them.

     I had thought of a piece I did years ago, also for Illustration Friday.  It was a personal totem that stacked my 2 Spirit Animals: A Tortoise and A Spider.  And that is when all the elements came together.  I would illustrate a native American child and their story would be about how they felt participating in the Thanksgiving Holiday traditions that are often a part of American public schools.  The Spider will be her animal spirit guide and it will try to communicate to her how to handle her feelings about the holiday's history and what it has evolved into, in terms of how it is celebrated now.  That's really the origin of it all.

     Just a quick aside about the details of their names:
Ahote is a native American name that means Restless One. I thought it was appropriate for her as the story is about her restlessness over her dream-visions.  Her last name, Dakota, is just to pay homage to the woman who's article inspired most of my story.  She is part of the Dakota, so I made Ahote and her family a part of hers.  Also Ahote's mother, Shemah's name means Mother.  I thought it would be best to just directly connect her name to her role in the story.

     As far as the illustration goes, I of course, set out to find as much visual reference to "draw" from to create the character of Ahote.  I did a lot of sketching, caricaturing, a lot of bad drawing, etc before I came to something close to what I was looking for.  You know the problem, when an artist sees something in their head, is that the visions aren't always so clear.  Much like Ahotes dream's, you only see slivers or glimpses of something in your mind.  However, it is rare that you can see the whole thing.  This is mainly the reason I end up sketching alot until I see something that resembles what I think the image in my mind is... I know it sounds odd and confusing, but let's be honest.  If artists could always see their vision clearly, sketching would be unnecessary. They could just draw out exactly finished what they saw in their mind's eye.  So I labored and labored.

     This week, as it is the Holiday, I was also pressed for time.  I originally was going to draw out Ahote and have her framed by a dream catcher that was covered in colorful patterns and, If you looked closely at it, could see the spider in the dream catcher (as if the dream catcher was it's web of divinity).  This of course had to be scaled back to something I could actually finish in time and post about for today.  Also I originally was going to draw the make up she would have worn in the final part of the story, but I really thought it took away from her by doing so.  SO, I settled for just making her costume something really nice and inspired by the visual research I found.  I also gave her a stuffed spider to hold to reference not only the IF Friday Topic, but also the story I wrote about her.

     The most challenging part of this illustration was getting all of the texture and color to work just right with each other.  I really wanted it to emote that Autumn and Thanksgiving feeling from it's color scheme.
I had used a photo I found of corn as a reference guide for color on her skin to her dress. The patterns were based on some stock patterns I had found, but all of their coloring was based on actual photographs of young Native American girls that I had found.

     This pretty much sums up what all I was going to talk about for this week's piece.  I hope you all enjoy the rest of your week.  Again, for all my American friends, I say Happy Thanksgiving to those who are wanting to celebrate it's positive side. To those who are remembering that today is also a solemn one, I want you to know that part of me is thinking about you today also.  If you are mourning today, my condolences to you. I truly am sorry for the horrors that your people have endured.

     I leave you all with a comical clip from one of my favorite Thanksgiving films that also references Thanksgiving's dark history with tongue and cheek:

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Clown Sighting on Illustration Friday OR The FatMan Goes to the Circus

     Yay! It's Friday, Illustration Friday, and in light of Halloween, which has just past, and with all the "Clown Sightings" that have been popping up around the world lately, I've decided to share an older piece that I previously had not written about.  This week's topic is STRIPES and it seemed appropriate to share with everyone.  I had originally thought of creating a character in a zebra costume and writing a Halloween story about it. However, I would have needed to have done that before Monday and 1.5 days isn't really enough time to write a story, illustrate something and then write a post and post everything.  Also, I have been thinking about another illustration I had done many moons ago...

     One thing that I've noticed that has been happening, recently, is this cultural phenomenon of "Creepy Clown Sightings."  It's one of the reasons that This particular Illustration came to mind when I read this week's topic.  Though my clown is not really a "creepy clown" nor was it intended to be, my subconscious mind must have been deliberating on him as it was the first thing I thought of, instead of a new illustration idea popping into my head, as they sometimes tend to do. I also had recently finished listening to Stephen King's It on audio book, also, so this might have something to do with why my back-burner thoughts have been gravitating towards the FatClown.

     SO Creepy Clown Sightings:  Of course me being ME, I did some research on the phenomenon to better  acquaint myself with what all the Hoopla and Circus Tricks were about.  People have been quite literally hysterical about these sightings and for one reason or another, its spread world wide into a form of mass hysteria. Just ask Wikipedia about it... ;0)

     The 2016 clown sightings refers to incidents involving alleged sightings of people dressed as an evil clown in incongruous settings, such as near forests and schools. The incidents were reported in the  United States and subsequently in other Western countries from August 2016. The clown sightings were first reported in the US state of South Carolina when a 9 year old boy told his mother that two clowns tried to lure him into the woods.  By mid-October 2016 they had been reported in nearly all US states, nine out of thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, and eighteen other countries.

     While some of the incidents appeared to be wholly unsubstantiated, or lacked evidence of criminal activity, a few led to arrests. Some people were cited or arrested for making violent threats to schools, and some incidents involved robberies and assaults on children and adults.

     By mid-October 2016, in the wake of hundreds of "clown sightings" in the United States and Canada, the phenomenon had spread from North America to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. 

John Caroll Lynch as Twisty the Clown 
from American Horror Story: Freakshow

     Now, I have never really understood coulrophobia (the fear of clowns).  I certainly don't find clowns really that scary or creepy, even when their visage is made grotesque.  I find psychopaths or sociopaths scary more so than clowns.  I did a bit of research also about coulrophobia,
and, mostly, people have become afraid of clowns due to the American serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, and the modern stock archetype of an evil clown popularized by Pennywise the Dancing Clown in Stephen King's It. It's also perpetuated by musical bands such as the Insane Clown Posse, Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story Freakshow, and so on and so on. In a published essay called Coulrophobia and the Trickster, by Joseph Durwin, this modern cultural archetype is studied more fully.  Durwin states that the concept of evil clowns has an independent position in popular culture, arguing that "the concept of evil clowns and the widespread hostility it induces is a cultural phenomenon which transcends just the phobia alone."

Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown 
from It (1990 TV Mini Series)

     A study by the University of Sheffield concluded "that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable." This may be because of the nature of clowns' makeup hiding their faces, making them potential threats in disguise; as a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge stated, young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face". This natural dislike of clowns makes them effective in a literary or fictional context, as the antagonistic threat perceived in clowns is desirable in a villainous character.

Alex Powell a.k.a. The Northampton Clown

     Such archetypes and hysteria are perpetuated by real life pranksters, such as the Northampton Clown in England. Student Alex Powell began a sort of social experiment and prank when he began to appear all over the English town dressed as a creepy clown that was quite similar in appearance to Pennywise from Stephen King's best selling novel.

     The truth is no one really knows or understands completely why the world's population have developed this fear. Just an F.Y.I.: Coulrophobia isn't a "real" fear acknowledged by academia or professional  psychiatrists.  The term is not listed in the World Health Organization's ICD-10 nor in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5 categorization of disorders.  It is considered an "informal" phobia and is listed as such along with many others.  I personally have an irrational fear of zombies; not in the cute everybody-loves-zombies-now-so-I'm-going-to-say-this-to-go-along-with-a-current-and-popular-trend-kind.  I actually do have an honest fear that the Dead will reawaken out of their eternal rot-infested slumbers to walk the Earth; more so the supernatural Zombies than the Viral Ones.   The term for this is Kinemortophobia.  I suppose it stems from seeing Michael Jackson's Thriller projected on a large screen at the roller skating rink when I was very young and I still have nightmares about this irrational cataclysm.  Supposedly this irrational fear is as common as Coulrophobia and it appears on the same listing of  "informal" phobias.

     But anyway... Lets talk about this illustration...

     As many of you know, I have been keeping a list of ideas for FatMan persona's to illustrate. I usually create a new one when I'm feeling creatively stumped or just not feeling creative at all.  He is my "muse," sort to speak, and has jump-started my creative juices more times than I can think of since his first appearance back in '05.  I had originally planned 40 by the time I'm 40, but I've been thinking I want to do 50 before I'm 50 instead.  Seems like a better idea to me, plus it gives me more time to create more of  them.

     I have kept a list in my Idea Journal of possible visages that I could illustrate the FatMan as.  One of these was a Clown.  When I wrote this, I had meant a vintage more Old World European style clown; One more close to the origins of the circus than to modern day clowns.  I liked the idea of portraying the FatMan this way because there still is a little piece of me that wishes to run away and join The Circus.  I would say that this is something that most all of us has thought about, but in a recent study I read as I was doing my research on Creepy Clown Sightings, it was stated that only 6% of American adults have thought about this.  88% had not, and that is sad, because I always imagine the circus as a place of wonder and magic; a place so rich with color you could go blind from trying to see it all.

The Circus by George Seurat, 1891

     I'm sure when someone says the word circus to you, your mind immediately envision a very very large and colorful tent with 3 rings inside where various performers perform amazing acts to entertain a crowd that sits all around the circumference of the tent in stadium style bleachers or stands.  To be honest, this is only what is known as the "Modern Circus" and it has only existed for about 250 years.  Early circuses were almost exclusively demonstrations of equestrian skills with a few other types of acts to link the horsemanship performances. Performances developed significantly through the next fifty years, with large scale theatrical battle reenactments becoming a significant feature.
The 'traditional' format, whereby a ringmaster introduces a varied selection of acts that mostly perform choreographed acts to traditional music, developed in the latter part of 19th century and continued almost universally to be the main style of circus up until the 1970s.  Phillip Astley is credited as being the "father" of the modern circus, the circus you know and grew up with: a company of performers that may include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists, as well as other object manipulation and stunt-oriented artists.  Circuses originally were performed inside of a theater of sorts.

     The structures were called a circus but not the event itself.  It wasn't until 1825 in America that circuses were revolutionized by  P. T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup, who launched P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie & Circus, a travelling combination of animal and human oddities, the exhibition of humans as a freak show or sideshow was thus an American invention. Coup was also the first circus entrepreneur to use circus trains to transport the circus from town to town; a practice that continues today and introduced the first multiple ringed circuses. This is the first time that circuses began to travel and it is the notion of what most people think of when they hear the word "Circus."

     Circuses are believed to have originated from Greece. In Ancient Rome, the circus was a building for the exhibition of horse and chariot races, equestrian shows, staged battles, gladiatorial combat and displays of (and fights with) trained animals. The word Circus derives from the Latin word circus (spelled the same way) which derives from the Greek word kirkos, meaning "circle" or "ring."

     So now that I had decided what sort of Clown I wanted to illustrate from what certain era in the history of circuses, I had to begin drawing him.
I sketched several versions of him based on some amazing vintage photographs that I had found.  I studied the make up and the costume and sketched around until I found a combination of the two that I liked.  Now that the Fat Clown was drawn I just needed to draw all of the performers that would "wrap" around my FatClown.  To be honest, I originally was just going to illustrate the FatClown alone inside my Big Top, but ultimately decided that it would make him seem more like a "Sad Clown" and that is not what I was wanting for him.  I wanted him to emit joy and whimsy and color... lots and lots of color. lol.


1.)  The head completely in profile.
2.)  The eyes are always closed.
3.)  His bangs have a small curl.
4.)  His lips are always small and suggest a hint of a mysterious smile.
5.)  He is framed by an arched checker-board frame.
6.)  He floats centered in the composition among a Background filled with elements and symbols pertaining to him/her.

     I included favorite performers and animals that I liked to see at a circus: a juggler, an elephant, a tight-wire walker, a seal, a trapeze artist, a giraffe... and a duck (because I think there should be circus ducks. lol)  I will admit that working on a composition filled with many characters is challenging... every time.  I wanted to create dynamic movement that would evoke the feeling of the circus environment that most of us have come to think of when we think of circuses and circus performers.  I also needed them to compliment the FatClown without overpowering him.  Since you sometimes can't get everything right the first time you do something, I employed an old illustrators handy dandy trick that everyone should feel free to use.  I used several sheets of tracing paper and sketched my individual characters on each individual sheet.  I could then begin overlapping them and moving them around until I found the best placement for each character.

     From here, I created my "Final Sketch."  I inked the illustration, scanned it in to the computer.  I had some idea of what colors I wanted some of the elements in the illustration. I knew what colors I wanted to use for the FatClown and I also knew the color of the interior of my Big Top Tent... I just had to figure out exactly what colors to use for everything else.  I remember it did take a few versions of the color composition before I really had my "guide" for color in the final illustration.

     I then began the long yet relaxing and joyous part of this particular medium... digitally painting.  Honestly I just get lost in painting and before you know it, hours and hours and hours have gone by.  I did keep a log of sorts of the progress of this piece.  You can see below what was accomplished at the end of each night I worked on this illustration.

     In the end, I was very pleased with my Fat Clown. I find him neither scary or creepy; just charming, quite charming.  And that pretty much sums up what I can say about this piece.  Since I created it a while back, I'm fuzzy on the some of the details of working in progress on him.  I really wanted to talk more on why he's been in my mind lately and, since I never previously wrote about him, thought I would share him with you all today.

     I hope you enjoyed the illustration as mush as I have creating it.  Also, enjoy the rest of your weekends.  Try not to get lured into any cars or wooded areas by suspicious and/or creepy clowns.  Your survival may depend on it; constant vigilance.  lol.   Think of nice happy clowns, perhaps, I don't know. I'm not sure of  how you fight an irrational fear of clowns.  Personally, I think it's rather Silly to be afraid of something so SILLY, but I will not judge. I'm afraid of zombies, remember. lol.

     I will leave you all with this last interesting thought (at least I find it interesting and rather amusing.)
A few weeks ago a friend of mine, on Facebook, made a reactionary post to other peoples reactionary post about the Creepy Clown Sightings.  They had stated that they were tired of hearing about people
whine about their fear of clowns and then just typed the words,"CLOWNS! CLOWNS! CLOWNS!"  This is funny, and I commented this on that post. However what is even more funny and amusing is that just typing the word "CLOWNS" disturbs on;y those with the fear of the word "CLOWNS" and not the Clowns themselves.  In other words, just type/shouting the word "CLOWNS" affects logophobics, those with a fear of words. So they would find the word "CLOWN" more terrifying than they would find an actual Clown terrifying.  The post wouldn't affect the coulrophobics at all (whom were the ones being addressed in the post.)  Coulrophobics would respond to an image of a clown, not the typed word.  I had posted a response to this affect, but my friend didn't find it amusing that much.  I realize that the humor is obscure, and that my friend is quite intelligent and that they would have known what I was talking about... They just didn't find it funny lol.  I on the other hand couldn't stop finding the humor in that irony.  I laughed to myself about it for at least 24 hours, if not 48. ;0)

     Anyway lol   I hope you all enjoy the rest of your, hopefully, Creep-Clown-Free Friday.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.